Opinion: Small Business Saturday is All About American Express

There’s a lot of hype in the media about Small Business Saturday, the American-Express-created shopping day wedged between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

In an article on the Chief Marketer Network by executive editor Brian Quinton, American Express OPEN senior vice president of partnerships and business development Mary Ann Fitzmaurice says Small Business Saturday “is to create a day to make small business owners part of the national culture, just as Black Friday and Cyber Monday are.”

But she says something else that should make all consumers and small businesses feel warm and gooey inside:

“We really don’t want this to be about American Express.”

But that statement could not be further from the truth. Small Business Saturday is all about American Express.

Let’s take a look at Small Business Saturday site:

Consumers who register their American Express credit cards online before Nov. 26 earn a one-time $25 credit to that card if they spend $25 or more at one of the participating small businesses on that day.

Participating merchants get all kinds of free tools to promote Small Business Saturday… and American Express.

And let’s also look at the results released by American Express after Small Business Saturday 2010. There’s stats on how many consumers registered for the event, how many consumers (and politicians) spread the word, home many small businesses participated…

The following was reported to sister publication PROMO by marketing agencies CP+B Digitas for the 2011 PRO Awards:

“Most importantly, people shopped. In a year when holiday sales increased less than 4%, sales that weekend jumped 9%, while sales at small retailers from people who used their American Express cards increased 28%.”

So does Small Business Saturday even help small businesses? Can you not help small businesses if you use a different form of payment? Or is it just a publicity stunt for American Express?

I’ll admit it. As a consumer, I have followed all the trends merchants, vendors and consultants have passed on to Multichannel Merchant. When I shop bricks-and-mortar, it’s mostly with big box or closeout stores. When I shop online, it’s via Google Shopping to find the best price.

But I saw the light last week, when I ran an errand for my parents. They needed me to bring their microwave in for a minor repair, to a local appliance retailer they’d been shopping with for ages. I was shocked when my father nonchalantly told me I’d bring back a loaner from the store.

A loaner was not available (turns out there was a recall on this particular model microwave), so the store owner went downstairs and grabbed a floor model for my parents to use.

As I waited in the store, I window-shopped refrigerators and electric stoves. To my surprise, the prices were very comparable to Home Depot and Sears.

It made me realize that you can’t underestimate your Mom and Pop stores.

And some Mom and Pops are finding their niche in ecommerce as well. I was surfing Google Shopping for the best price on roof de-icing cables (this past winter was not a friendly one in Connecticut).

The best deals came from small retailers, either through their affiliate stores on larger networks (in this case, Sears’s network) and via an Ace Hardware franchisee in Florida (where I’m sure the roof de-icing cables aren’t flying off the shelves).

Anyway, the bottom line is this: American Express does a great job raising awareness small business, even if it’s over a 2-month period and just for one day’s worth of shopping.

But more needs to be done to keep your local merchant thriving, and it can’t be all about using your American Express card to keep them going.

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